Carignan is a red wine grape believed to have originated in Cariñena, the Aragon region of Spain, and was historically a key part of Rioja's red wine blend. For a long time it was the world’s most planted vine. From Spain it gained prominence in Algeria and fed the country's export production to France. Upon Algeria's independence in 1962, the French supply of Carignan wine was cut off and growers in Southern France began to plant the vine.
The grape's prominence in France hit a high in 1988 when it accounted for 167,000 hectares and was France's most widely planted grape. That same year, with a focus on the overall quality of European wine and to reduce the growing wine lake, the EU began an aggressive vine pull scheme where vineyard owners were offered subsidies for pulling up their vines.
Carignan was the most widely affected, dropping to 95,700 ha in 2000 and being surpassed by Merlot as the most widely planted grape. The popularity of Carignan is largely due to its ability to produce very large yields in the range of 200 hl/ha (10-14 tons/acre) and good frost resistance.
The vine does face major growth issues with high sensitivity to rot, powdery mildew, downy mildew and grape worms. Carignan is a late budding and ripening grape which requires a warm climate in order to achieve full ripeness. The vine also develops a very thick stalk around the grape clusters which makes mechanical harvesting difficult.
In winemaking the grape is often used to add a deep colour to blends, rather than being made in a varietal form with some exceptions, from old vines in places like Montpeyroux and the Corbières AOC predominantly Carignan. The grape is a difficult one for winemakers to work with being naturally high in acidity, tannins and astringency which requires great skill to produce a wine of finesse and elegance.
In the Languedoc, the grape is often blended with Cinsaut, Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Mourvèdre and Merlot, partners capable of producing a softer wine with rustic fruit and perfume. As with many other varietals, older Carignan vines seem to produce wines with generally more character and less edge.